Monday, August 30, 2010

Soils and testing for Microbes

It's late summer now and soils are becoming depleted and turning rock hard. Some of the depletion is due to low organic matter. I make the analogy to the fridge. You can keep taking food (ie organic matter) out until it is all gone and then you can take leftovers (ie compost) out but finally if you don't refill it the fridge will be empty.

It is the same with the soil. You need to add a lot of organic matter over time to sustain the soil in a garden, especially in a vegetable garden where you are removing so many minerals in the form of food you are eating. Given the right conditions microbes can multiply and grow and this eventually supplies the soil with nitrogen but microbes can't replace all of the micronutrients that have been removed with the food. Protozoa eating bacteria release nitrogen in plant available form and fungus transport phosphorus from afar but what do you do if your microbes themselves have been killed by fertilizers and mistreatment?

I bore you with all this because it is common that gardeners forget to replenish their soil and last week I took a soil biology course to see what is in my soils and compost and compost tea. I was generally happy - especially with the compost. It was alive with all kinds of beneficial organisms. If your soil is getting hard it is probably lacking the microbes necessary for good soil life. Fall is the perfect time to build soil microbes.

Thanks to Martin for the photo included here that he took when I was hard at work last week.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Does anyone know this Daylily?

This is Red Velvet Achillea but what is the smallish (about 30" tall) daylily below it? I planted it several years ago and this is the first year it has bloomed. I bought it from estate perennials but can't find an e-mail address for them either! I am hopeless some days. If you recognize this Alberta daylily send me a comment or call me!

Friday, August 20, 2010

New From Seed This Year- cutting zinnias

This spring I started the usual suspects - tomatoes and basil - as well as all kinds of small flowers. The latest to come into bloom are the tall cutting zinnias. One opened today and I am thrilled to see it has a beautiful peach blossom. Described in the seed packet as coming in shades of apricot to rose and salmon blush I thought it would complement my dark green house.

Here is a photo of Apricot Blush Zinnia from Renee's Garden seed in the US. It is growing in front of a (the deliberatly blurred) small shrub sold as Tiger Eyes Sumac. Remember we have a very cool climate here in Calgary, Alberta - our elevation is the same as Banff- so any bloom from seed is an excellent success story.

I look forward to more blooms in the coming weeks from the numerous buds.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rat-Tail Radish - Another New Vegetable

Hassan is growing rat-tail radish - seed purchased from a regular seed company but never before seen by this garderner! Garden manager Georgina introduced it to me and I tasted her "radish gone to seed" in the Mission Community Garden in Calgary. It is delightful! Very spicy and radish-like in flavor. Yummy in salads or fast fries.

Thanks for introducing us to a new veggie Hassan!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

New Gazania is Gorgeous!

I saw a new gazania in Evonne's garden today - we both agreed it is a good one. Gazanias usually close up at night or on cool days and this one is not only open on a shady cool day - it is a bright beautiful shade of orange. Sunbather's Sunset Gazania is a must try plant for me in 2011!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Follow-Up From Herald Article- Plants Speak to Us

Hello Donna, I enjoyed your Saturday August 06 (Calgary Herald) article about plant nutrient uptake. PLEEEEZe tell us how we can correct these problems in your next week's column. Kt

Ah Kate- - fixing the problem depends on what causes the problem- for instance Magnesium deficiency (shown on the tomato leaf above) is sometimes caused by low pH - which can be caused by the potting soil being acidic or it can be caused by lack of magnesium. The latter can be fixed just by adding the micronutrient -using a product such as Kelp. The low pH can be a bigger problem because if the soil was not balanced before you bought it that is a problem. Don't buy that soil again or fix it now by adding lime. So you have to rule out one problem and then look for the solution. If you simply add Mg and the pH is low it may not be available to the plant.

Iron "deficiency" is also more of a pH problem and once that is changed through using more compost and making sure the soil is watered well but not waterlogged, the problem can solve itself. I will try to add more bits and pieces in my Blog but am also trying to write a book right now so am torn with these writing projects! Thanks for your feedback... ps - I only write in the Herald every second week so check back her for more updates.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Garlic is ready!

My friend Pat said she had never seen garlic in a garden. Oops- I picked it five minutes before she arrived this weekend. It doesn't look like much in the garden once it is mature. The onion-like plant just gradually turns brown. The bottom picture is right after I picked it - before washing. The top photo is a washed and slightly peeled garlic ready to dry. I have hung it to dry where it won't get rain. I will replant some in the fall once it is ripe. To plant it I just separate the cloves into individual little nuggets and plant those pointy side up and an inch or two deep. This cluster of garlic started as a single clove purchased last fall at the market.